"Bradda Iz" has plenty aloha on his 37th birthday.
Photos by Craig Kojima, Star-Bulletin
At the 19th annual Na Hoku-hanohano Awards ceremonies last Wednesday, Kamakawiwo'ole led off the entertainment in a show-stopping performance with his three former partners from the Makaha Sons of Ni'ihau - John Koko, Jerome Koko and Moon Kauakahi.
The nostalgic moment - seen live by a television audience statewide - moved the 1,000 people in the Sheraton Waikiki Hotel ballroom to tears. Iz had stirred many hearts.
Before that moment, Kamakawiwo'ole had traveled many roads - singing, instrumentalizing, composing, producing albums, winning numerous Na Hokuhanohano awards (most recently as 1994 people's choice entertainer of the year), speaking out for Hawaiian sovereignty, splitting from Makaha Sons of Ni'ihau three years ago - and drugs.
"I've seen it all, done it all, known it all," Kamakawiwo'ole said about drugs during an interview at his Pawaa studio apartment. "But I've been clean since last August."
It was also in August that he began wearing an oxygen tube during performances. "My heart uses and needs more oxygen because my body is so big," explained the 6-foot-2-inch entertainer, who disdained to disclose his weight. "Tell your readers to guess," he said.
Israel Kamakawiwoole has an album coming out this summer and hints that a reunion gig, or more, with the Makaha Sons may be in the offing.
"Yeah, that wasn't planned," Kamakawiwo'ole recalled about the onstage reunion with the Makaha Sons at Na Hoku. "I didn't know what was going on. I just had my eyes closed. I heard Moon's voice and I opened my eyes and looked to the side and there he was. That was cool, really really cool, awesome.
"I was crying, yeah, I was crying. There was a lotta emotion, a lotta feeling of love, an awesome feeling of aloha. That was the perfect example, the epitome, of aloha spirit. Everybody in the state talks about aloha spirit; that was the perfect display. It's all about love, it's all about being Hawaiian, and just love, man, family.
He said he and his former Makaha mates weren't at odds.
"It kinda spins me because everybody thinks that it's reconciliation, but there was no animosity after the breakup. In fact, it wasn't even between the four of us. It was between me and the agent. It has nothing to do with us.
"It's just water under the bridge already. I love them. Moon Kauakahi is my brother-in-law. The other two bruddahs are like our family."
He said his daughter Ceslieanne, 10 at the time, cried over the breakup three years ago, and that she cried again Wednesday.
"The breakup was a funky event. You know, my daughter cried like a baby. (Then) she cried, 'Oh thank you, Jesus, about my daddy and my uncle them.' I love the guys with all my heart and all their children, I miss all of them."
The Makaha Sons, left to right, Moon Kauakahi, Jerome Koko and his brother John, surround Israel Kamakawiwoole on stage for the first time in years. They had a terrible parting of ways and at this years' Hokus appeared to make peace. The crowd, seeing this, stood for their entire performance. Photo by Dennis Oda, Star-Bulletin
Just Thursday he formed a support group for people who are 300 pounds and over - including Jan Rowan, the mother of sumo's Akebono. The group will focus on diet, nutrition and exercise and "we could form a Gold's Gym for those over 300 pounds," he mused. He wants those 400 and 500 pounds to e-mail him about joining (firstname.lastname@example.org).
And, he's committed to warning young people against drugs. - "It ruins you. It's not Hawaiian. It's not about malama'ing (taking care of) those you love."
What about his future professionally? Kamakawiwo'ole said anything is possible after the reconnection of the Makaha Sons of Ni'ihau team - a gig, series of gigs, even an album project.
"It's a nice birthday present, meaning we've all come full circle. You got double the pleasure now: You got the Makaha Sons with their thing; you got me with my thing. I wouldn't put it past having a reunion; that's in the future, no doubt. Now you get a triple whammy (Makaha Sons, Kamakawiwo'ole, and all of them together again). Nothing was said, but we're going according to how we feel (and) I'm sure they feel the same way as I do."
He's also got a solo album in the works, scheduled to debut in late summer.
"Just picture a bucket of water filled to the top with a faucet drip, drip, dripping into the bucket - overflow!" he said about the theme of the album, which may feature several of his own compositions.
Meanwhile, it's down to the nitty gritty of weight control - less salt, no fat, lots of water, walking, swimming and other exercise. He wants to buy a house with swimming pool, and the Waianae High dropout wants to get a home tutor to earn his GED. As he said, anything is possible; there are many more roads to travel.